Philadelphia Flyers: 8 Games to Watch in the Second Half of the Season
The halfway point has come and gone as the Flyers now have 42 games in the books and have come away from them with a very respectable 26 wins and 56 points—not bad for a team in transition.
But the Flyers and their fans all know the real season is actually just about to get under way.
With that said, I have analyzed the games remaining on the schedule and highlighted eight which may be of great importance and interest to the team and city.
Let us proceed.
January 22 vs. Boston Bruins
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Currently one spot above the Flyers in the Conference standings (in terms of points) sit the Boston Bruins.
Each team has won in the others' barn this season, with Philly crashing the B's opening night Stanley Cup celebration with a hard fought 2-1 victory on October 6.
Boston answered by beating up the Bullies on Broad Street to the tune of 6-0 on December 17.
These two teams play each other nasty—an understandable outcome of back-to-back playoff meetings and an historic rivalry between the cities that dates back before NHL expansion.
January 22 will mark the third of four meetings between Philly and Boston and the final matchup in the City of Brotherly Love, at least until the playoffs.
The Flyers need to play better at home (10-6-2 in their own building, third worst in the East) and a win over the defending Stanley Cup Champs could be the momentum builder this team needs to turn the Wells Fargo Center into the home-ice advantage it should be.
Why I'm watching: Good, physical hockey between two teams fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
January 31 vs. Winnipeg Jets
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The Flyers dropped the first two meetings to the Winnipeg Jets by a combined score of 15-12.
Philadelphia has not defended the 10th place Jets at all so far this season, so this will be the game to watch if offense is your thing.
Again, the Flyers have not fared well on home-ice this season. A strong showing, especially on the defensive end (goaltenders included), could be a very good sign for this team moving forward.
Why I'm watching: GOALS. And the potential for another epic Ilya Bryzgalov rant.
February 12 at Detroit Red Wings
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The thought of the Flyers having to travel to get to "Hockeytown" is a laugh. But undeserved nicknames aside, the Red Wings are always a premiere team and a fun matchup, the always-in-it teams from the East and West in a once or twice a year game and a potential Stanley Cup Finals preview. Good times.
As is often the case between Philly and Detroit the contest will be nationally televised, this time on the NBC 7:30 pm Sunday spot.
Philly will play host to Detroit on March 6, but this first game will be the chess match that hopefully leads to a war in their second matchup.
Why I'm watching: to see Giroux matched up against Nik Lidstrom and the Flyers rookies against Detroit's playoff savvy veterans.
February 28 at San Jose Sharks
This isn't how Captain Mike usually does it...
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The fourth and final game of a four game road swing that will see the Flyers tour Canada with games against the Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames leading up to this 10:30 pm showdown in California.
Not only will this be the end of a critical road-stretch, but the first game after the NHL Trade Deadline.
This foray in San Jose will be the only meeting with the Sharks this season, who currently lead the Pacific division with 53 points.
Why I'll be watching: A new acquisition could be making his debut in orange and black and we here on the East Coast do not get a ton of opportunities to see Joe Thornton play, which is a disservice to hockey fans.
Also, the angry Philadelphian in me will always want revenge on Antti Niemi.
March 13 vs. New Jersey Devils
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The second leg of a home-and-home series against the Devils will be in Philadelphia and that's just the way I like it.
If I've learned anything watching hockey it's that teams who play each other frequently do not like each other.
Add to that the build-up of animosity that can come from three-plus periods of hockey the night (in this case, two nights) beforehand will lead to some punishing hockey.
In their two meetings thus far the Flyguys and Devils have amassed 78 combined penalty minutes and I would not be surprised to see that total surpassed during this home-and-home series.
To add to this building tension, Jersey and Philly will meet two times prior (Jan. 21 @ NJ; Feb. 4 @ PHI) to these two games in three nights.
What to watch for: Grudge match. I hate to say I'll be watching a game for the fights, but what else is there to root for on a Tuesday night in the middle or March? Honestly, I may have to score tickets to this one—it has Flyers-Sens brawl written all over it.
March 24 vs. Montreal Canadiens
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This is my Flyers fanboy side talking but I absolutely cannot stand the Montreal Canadiens.
They make a bigger deal about the language a coach speaks than if he can get the job done and they are looked at as the Titans of the sport when they really haven't been relevant in about three decades.
Beating the Flyers without Bernie Parent is like winning the championship after the officials call the game because the opponents' biggest goon punched a referee in the back of the head for not calling a penalty on the player putting on a striptease at center ice.
And dominating a league with only six teams does not impress me either.
All in all I just really cannot stand "Les Habitants"—and that makes every game against them compelling.
I like seeing the Canadiens lose as much as I like seeing the Flyers win.
Add to that the fact Carey Price is an all-time great choke artist and you have the makings of a great hockey game.
Why I'll be watching: To see the 12th place Montreal Canadiens reminded they are a 12th place team.
April 3 vs. New York Rangers
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The final meting with the Rangers should have some sort of playoff implications.
Philadelphia has been battling New York for the top spot in the Atlantic Division all season. And this game already has the potential to resemble the final regular season game of 2010—the head-to-head matchup to determine which team would make the playoffs and which will go home.
The Rangers are 3-0 against Philly so far, but each game has produced very entertaining hockey.
Both teams can hit and score, but so far the difference has been NYR goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has stopped 91 of the Flyers 95 shots against him this season.
Why I'll be watching: To see if the $51 million man can step up to Brian Boucher status and make himself the hero in what will be a tight-checking, low-scoring affair.
April 7 @ Pittsburgh Penguins
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The final game of the season in Pittsburgh will be the Flyers second trip to Steel City in less than a week as the two teams will meet on April 1, as well. Both games will be national NBC broadcasts.
Much like the Devils games in March, the proximity of these match-ups bodes well for some intense hockey between two teams who never have a let down game against one another.
Also, there are bound to be playoff ramifications, as Pittsburgh, currently the ninth seed in the East, will need to make a late season push to get themselves back into the picture. Getting healthy would not hurt either—Sidney Crosby is said to be making strides (no pun intended) towards skating and the role players have been dropping like flies in his absence.
Why I'll be watching: Hopefully to see the Flyers eliminate the Penguins from playoff contention. But if Pittsburgh does not play along and are already no longer in the hunt, then I'll be watching to support the best damn hockey state in the nation.
The Keystone State is the epicenter of NHL hockey in the US. The Flyers have the best fans in the league and the Pens are not far behind, considering they're the state's "second team." Pennsylvania has been represented in four of the first five Winter Classics, as well as three of the last four Stanley Cup Finals.
Also, Bob is a Penguin-killer having never lost in Consol Energy Center. Even if Bryz is "the man" by this late date, could Bobrovsky see time if seeding is on the line?
There is a lot to be excited about (and some worries as well) for hockey fans in Philadelphia and really it all begins with this final game in Pittsburgh.
The Flyers will always be judged on their postseason success and it begins April 7. But until then there are 40 games to be played and still a lot of questions to be answered.
Here's to some great hockey along the way.